Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Earwig Myth: Probed by Mythbusterperson

Do Earwigs really crawl into your ear?

Let us examine some sources you might visit online to find out.

According to the self appointed experts on Yahoo answers the answer is a definite no:

What about the incredibly reliable Wikipedia then – which is the source the above virtual ‘clinicians’ relied upon?

Well they say it’s a myth that they lay eggs in your bran (true - I think) and that its rare that these insects crawl into your ear –also possibly true. But if it is true that its rare (which we need to check) just how rare is it? Has anyone actually collected data on the subject?  Because the myth is an old one and - actually - it does happen.

Unless this MD is having a laugh - here is some disconfirming evidence that its a myth that earwigs crawl in your ear:

JEFFREY R. FISHER. MD (1986) West J Med. 1986 August; 145(2): 245 

Earwig in the Ear

'Earwigs are nocturnal, drab-colored insects
of the order Dermaptera that are attracted to light and occasionally creep into homes. Their chewing mouthparts and forceps-like abdominal appendages give them a foreboding appearance.

The common name for these anthropods in at least six
European languages incorporates a word for ear. The extended hindwing of some species resembles the shape of a human ear and the earwig's pincers look like instruments once used to pierce women's ears for earrings. Furthermore, there
is an ancient Anglo-Saxon legend that they crawl into the ears
of sleeping persons. Entomologists, however, insist that this
belief is without foundation.`13 The following is the second
report from Arizona-and also only the second in English
literature-to document the veracity of the legend.

At 3 AM, my 8-year-old daughter awoke me from a sound
sleep. She was extremely upset. For the preceding few minutes she had attempted to remove a creature crawling about in  her left external ear canal. A light sleeper, she had been aroused by "the sound of little feet." Otoscopic examination revealed a dark brown mass near the tympanic membrane.

My brief discussion with her on the importance of proper
hygiene was interrupted when I saw the form move. Then,
bathed in brilliant illumination from the otoscope, a female
earwig (family, Carcinophoridae), measuring 20 mm in
length, cautiously emerged, to the relief of insect, child and

Earwigs do not, as once believed, enter the brain to cause
insanity but they can enter the external ear canal while we
sleep. Some species pinch sharply and forcibly eject a highly
irritating fluid from abdominal glands.4 In the previous re
port5 a male European earwig (Forficula auricularia) punctured and lacerated the tympanic membrane of a sleeping graduate student in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Earwigs are relatively harmless and, in all likelihood,
enter the human ear rarely and only by chance. Nevertheless,
they can produce severe otic trauma lending credence to an
ancient "myth."

Ok so it could well be true that it happens. Is there any evidence that suggests we need to look further into this?

I trawled the net of 5 mins this morning and found the following:

  1. - confirmative
  2. Top 10 animal myths says it’s a myth – looks like they are wrong on that one:
  3. Check out what Tiff says on this site (scroll down it a bit to see comments)

OK Mythbusters – looks worthy of further investigation. The orthodox ‘knowledge’ that earwigs entering your ear is an extremely rare event may or may not be true.

It seems logical that if you don't sleep near earwigs it will be highly unlikely that one would craw in your ear. But what if you slept near them? Earwigs like dark places to sleep. If you have and earwig problem in your garden, for example, put an old cup, upended, on top of a stick in the ground and you will catch earwigs that have gone into it to sleep. Your ear is, similarly, a dark place to sleep with a roof on it - like a little cave. The telling question here is: in countries where people sleep closer to nature is the incidence of being ear-wigged  greater?

Verdict – more thorough research required. And one more telling question: what  exactly does extremely rare actually mean? 

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